Leesburg BBQ & Chili Cookoff

LEESBURG — Everybody loves a great barbecue, and combine it with a chili cookoff competition, and you’ve got the makings for an amazing weekend block party.

Add in that this event is being held for a good cause, and chances are it’s going to look even more appealing to people throughout Central Florida.

The Firefighters Charity of Central Florida certainly hope so. This charitable volunteer organization will be hosting its 10th BBQ and Chili Cookoff Competition on Friday, March 17 and Saturday, March 18, at Gator Harley in Leesburg. It’s a fundraiser for a good cause: to help cover the medical bills of Central Florida firefighters coping with serious medical conditions.

What Can Visitors Expect at this Chili Cookoff?

The BBQ and Chili Cookoff Competition will feature 40 teams competing for the best BBQ and chili, but that’s not all. This weekend party will also include:

  • Live music
  • Plenty of area vendors
  • Tons of food to purchase
  • Cold beer and mixed drinks

The fun kicks off on Friday with a new addition to the event, the Shamrockin’ Craft Beer Festival. Ticket holders can sample craft beer from local breweries in the beer garden starting at 4 p.m., and there will be a performance by the City of Mount Dora Pipes & Drums Band.

From 6-10 p.m., Hypersona performs a free concert through 10 p.m., and also at 6 p.m., The Culinary Lab host its first Burger Battle for Charity. Anyone with a unique flair for cooking burgers can enter to compete for cash and prizes.

Friday is the warm up night. Then on Saturday comes the big competition, when teams from all around the state eager to demonstrate that they’re tops at making BBQ, chili and BBQ sauce. The winners quality for $5,000 in cash and prizes.

Starting at 10 a.m. there will be live music by the Limited Sounds of Dennis, and the Competition gates open at noon so attendees can meet the teams and sample and judge chili, sauce and BBQ for a $10 fee.

Those teams get judged by a panel from the Florida BBQ Association who will be ruling on the best chicken, pork and ribs. Meanwhile, enjoy live music by Joe Santana and the Kingfish, who take the stage at 1 p.m. The music continues through 6 p.m.

“Arrive early and come hungry to sample all the teams’ recipes before they run out! If you get your fill of BBQ, visit the food trucks serving up burgers, corned beef, bangers and mash, phillies, smoked sausages, hand cut fries and much more,” noted Brian Gamble, president of the Firefighters Charity of Central Florida in a news release. “Wash it all down with a nice cold green beer or a mixed drink from one of the bars as you enjoy the music and vendors.”

While this event is free to attend, beer sample tickets will be sold for $30 in advance, which includes a classic Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage.

What is the Fundraiser Raising Money For?

The Firefighters Charity fundraiser has grown considerably and become one of Central Florida’s most popular two-day food events. All proceeds raised from it go to Florian Fund, which helps local firefighters with major medical issues such as cancer and PTSD.

As Gamble noted, in 2022 more than 2,000 people attended this weekend event, and they expect an even bigger crowd this year.

“We have a wait list for teams to compete,” he said. “This is a great problem to have. Our event grows more and more every year, and we always try to enhance the fun by trying new things.”

The Firefighters Charity of Central Florida was formed in 2012 to help give back to the community in Central Florida and Lake County, and the charity is run by a board of community volunteers and other local firefighters who donate their time to help the community and local first responders.

The Florian Fund was established by the Firefighters Charity in 2017.

To buy tickets, visit www.bbqandchilicompetition.com.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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